The stock plans of many public companies prohibit the granting of below-market options; other companies disclose in their SEC reports that stock options are granted at market and prepare their financial statements on that basis.
The term “backdating” refers to a number of option granting practices in which the reported grant date is different from the date on which the option is actually awarded, resulting in an option that is already “in-the-money” at the time of the grant.
New "Compensation Discussion and Analysis" Section Required An entirely new disclosure section called "Compensation Discussion and Analysis" ("CD&A") will be required.
The CD&A is substantially different from its counterpart under the current rules, the "Compensation Committee Report." The CD&A is intended to put in perspective for investors the policies and decisions that led to the compensation decisions reflected in the tables and narrative disclosures set forth throughout the proxy statement.
In its most basic form, backdating can range from the blatant falsification of a document to take advantage of a lower stock price to allowing executives to select a grant date during a specified period, for example during the 30 days after the grant is approved by the board or committee.
Nejat Seyhun of the University of Michigan for the newspaper showed that that options granting practices between 20 often failed to comply with the Sarbanes-Oxley requirement that grants of awards to executives be reported within two days of board approval (T"he Dating Game: Do Managers Designate Option Grant Dates to Increase Their Compensation? Prior research at Erik Lie at the University of Iowa found a pattern of probable options backdating in a number of companies prior to 2002.The Rules generally are effective for Forms 10-K and proxy statements filed for fiscal years ending on or after December 15, 2006, and thus will apply to disclosures of 2006 compensation in calendar year companies' 2007 proxy statements.The Rules also require precise and detailed disclosures of stock option grants. Any person who willfully violates ' any provision' of the Securities Act or the Exchange Act and ' any rule or regulation thereunder' commits a criminal offense, and could be subject to substantial fines as well as imprisonment. Two of these new regulations may give rise to liability, but only for backdating that occurred after August 29, 2002, the effective date of the amendments. Section 302 requires the principal executive and financial officers of publicly-traded corporations to certify each annual or quarterly report filed with the SEC. The officers also certify that they are responsible for establishing and maintaining internal corporate controls to ensure the proper disclosure of all material information. In addition, regardless of the GAAP accounting method the company used, the company must have recorded some sort of compensation expense for the discounted options. Additional Liabilities Under Sarbanes-Oxley When Congress and the SEC approved the Sarbanes-Oxley Act to amend the Exchange Act, they created additional financial regulations for publicly-owned corporations. Section 403 significantly shortened the time companies are permitted to wait before disclosing transactions involving management or principal stockholders, including option grants. This shortened time frame essentially removes the significant benefits of backdating because the limited volatility most stocks experience over the course of two days narrows the potential discount margin between the market price on the grant date and the strike price. This certification represents that the officers reviewed the company's financial data, and that it presents the financial condition of the company in all material respects. Certain 'performance-based' compensation payments are not counted toward the cap, including stock options that are granted with an exercise price equal to or greater than the FMV of the companies' shares on the date of the grant.